Photographer Roman Vishniac, moving just ahead of the Holocaust from Krakow to Warsaw to Munkacs in Hungary, saved the faces of the shtetls -- the only record of a vanished people's way of life. One year after he had finished his ghetto photographs (1933-38), Hitler's forces had brutally erased a people and a way of life forever. Only 30 of these moving photographs of Eastern European Jews are included in a two-part show at the National Academy of Sciences. It's too bad there aren't more.
The rest of the show -- 30 photomicrographs, loud, witty, color-saturated blow- ups of bugs and weird, protein landscapes -- is an extreme visual swing for viewers. The curators have wisely set up a second, distinct gallery space for the likes of "Fruiting Bodies of Slime Mold," a shocking-pink ballet of moss life seen in its oozing, animal phase against an electric-blue sky. Best of the grouping, which includes a close-up of Vitamin C (a kind of grotesque pitted canyonscape), is "Winter Frost," a temple mosaic, seen from far away, of tiny tiles in sub-pastel tones.
Vishniac reveres all life, whether by elegiac lighting in the Jewry pictures or by disciplined scrutiny in the coloration close-ups. He "does not kill his customers," not even the crawler who posed for "Anatomy of a Cockroach Leg."
Vishniac's photographs, on loan from the International Center of Photography, fulfill "the Lewis Hine definition of what we mean by a concerned photographer," writes ICP executive director Cornell Capa: "things to be appreciated . . . things to be corrected." PHOTOGRAPHS: ROMAN VISHNIAC -- At the National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Avenue NW, through June 17. Monday through Friday 9 to 5; for special viewing, call 334-2436.